For a while late on Tuesday afternoon (September 12, 2006) it appeared as though a group of 10 bishops invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to a Sept. 11-13 meeting in New York City would find a way to meet the needs of the seven dioceses which had requested alternative primatial oversight (APO) from him.
The meeting, around a large conference table at the Church Pension Group headquarters on Fifth Avenue, began more than three hours after the scheduled start time on Monday due to the cancellation of the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon’s flight from Ireland on Sunday. The two co-convenors spoke first. Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee introduced everyone and Southwest Florida Bishop John Lipscomb offered a prayer. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold then spoke briefly and without notes, assuring those present that no solution could be imposed on The Episcopal Church. Canon Kearon, the facilitator, then read a three-and-a-half-page handwritten statement.
Describing the APO requests as unprecedented, Canon Kearon said the Archbishop of Canterbury had asked the group to see if they could agree on a process that was mutually satisfactory and suggested two additional dates to meet again, perhaps even to discuss other issues if the bishops were agreeable. After he finished, the participants were invited to contribute and for the remainder of the sessions, Canon Kearon mostly took notes and observed.
It soon became apparent that Canon Kearon and at least some of the bishops had not received a copy of the consolidated request for APO which had been sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury at his request in July. Another delay ensued while one of the bishops prepared and distributed copies of the 13-page report. Its details did not figure prominently during the remainder of the meeting, however.
In addition to Bishops Griswold, Lee and Lipscomb the participating bishops were Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishops Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, Edward Salmon of South Carolina, James Stanton of Dallas, Mark Sisk of New York, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, and Robert O’Neill of Colorado.
After the introductions and opening statements, a wide-ranging discussion ensued with bishops by turns giving their assessment of The Episcopal Church in the aftermath of the 65th, 72nd, 74th and 75th General Conventions. There was also anecdotal sharing about the local environment in which each bishop ministers. Nearly all of the discussion concerned human sexuality and the mandatory ordination of women.
After a day and a half of exchanges that at times were blunt and confrontational, the participants were exhausted, but they had produced the draft of a brief statement announcing that the seven dioceses whose bishops had requested APO would be receiving “pastoral care” from someone other than the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Rather than push ahead to complete a final statement that day, Bishops Iker and Duncan suggested that the group meet again in the morning. Whether they continued Tuesday or waited until the morning, neither Bishop Stanton nor Bishop O’Neil would be able to assist further with a final statement, because they both had to leave for other commitments.
The next day it quickly became apparent that some had developed second thoughts. Bishop Griswold said wider acceptance of the statement that they had in hand might prove problematic because Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice and the President of the House of Deputies among others had not been consulted ahead of time. Bishop Duncan said the agreement did not address Network parishes located in non-Network dioceses and Bishop Iker said the appeal was for oversight, not pastoral care. The final paragraph or so of the draft was then rewritten to reflect the published statement.
(The Rev.) George Conger and Steve Waring